Thursday, June 6, 2013

Excerpt 8 -- A town with a dark secret

Today is an excerpt from one of my favorite stories, The Dark Secret of Warren House. This story was originally published in Dark Recesses in 2007. I also released it as a single on Amazon last autumn, and it briefly made it as high as #2 on the promotional list for horror. Now, it's part of my collection, THE ALCHEMIST & OTHER DARK TALES -- and that entire collection is on sale now for just 99 cents.

And now, from The Dark Secret of Warren House.


“This doesn’t feel right,” Marcia said.

“Oh, come on Marcia. It must be some sort of initiation. Let’s play along.”

She didn’t move, so Kevin squeezed by and continued, pulling Marcia along.

The air grew cooler and damp. Somewhere ahead water dripped.

“Kevin, let’s go back.”

“No, look,” he said. Marcia peered around him. The light was brighter, much brighter. “Come on, that’s where everyone must be.”

Kevin walked faster. Marcia struggled to keep up. They reached the end of the corridor. Kevin entered a massive round room, its walls arching into a doom-shaped ceiling. The room seemed as big as the entire first floor of the house. Marcia stepped in behind him, then gasped.

Along the wall, ringing the entire room, were a series of alcoves, a torch mounted above each.

“Damn,” he whispered.

Marcia tried to pull him from the room, but Kevin held firm, then moved to the first alcove. Inside was what appeared to have been a body, sunken in on itself, as if the insides had dried up. Its hair was shoulder length, held in place by a rotting headband. A thick mustache hid most of its mouth.

“This is one of the guys I saw upstairs, dressed like a sixties reject. I thought it was a costume.”

Marcia stepped beside him. “I saw him, too,” she said, voice trembling. “Come on Kevin, we have to get out of here.”

The man’s skin, what was visible, was laced with cracks, the body enveloped by gray tentacle-like growths protruding from the alcove’s walls. Some of the growths wrapped around the body, holding it in place. Other clear tentacles had grown right through the skin. Kevin leaned into the alcove. A dark, thick fluid moved, slowly, through the clear tentacles, from the body toward the walls.

Kevin stepped back, grasped Marcia’s hand. She shivered. They moved to the next alcove. Another body, this one in worse shape. Kevin recognized a tattered frock coat. A top hat rested in the alcove, next to the man. This body was nearly flat, its skin as dry as the parchment on which Kevin’s Yuletide invitation had been written.

In the next alcove he recognized the long coat of the Revolutionary War era man, though no color remained. The body was papery thin, the tentacles brown and dry. Kevin reached into the alcove, touched the body. It crumbled.

“Dear god,” Marcia cried.

Kevin looked at her. She was pointing to the next alcove.

There, Kevin saw, sat Lucy Adams. Her face was drawn and pale, eyes staring vacantly. Blood dripped from a dozen different entry wounds where tentacles invaded her body. Kevin reached into the alcove, fingers brushing Lucy’s face, when a tentacle stabbed from the shadows, slicing into his forearm.

Kevin yanked his hand away. The tentacle stretched and then snapped, a sliver still in his arm.

“Get it out,” he screamed, clawing at this skin. “My knife,” he gasped.

“What?” Marcia asked.

“Knife … in my right pocket,” he said through clenched teeth. He continued scratching, peeling the skin away from the wound. Marcia slipped her hand in his pocket, withdrew a small pocketknife, then opened it.

“Now what?”

“Cut it out!” he screamed.

“Wha… I can’t do that.”

Kevin grabbed the knife and sliced around the wound. The tentacle was longer now, growing from his arm. Kevin slashed deep into the skin, cutting under the tentacle, like a surgeon removing a tumor. A chunk of flesh, tentacle imbedded in it, fell to the floor.

Kevin stumbled away, the room spinning, gray clouding his vision. He fell to one knee. Marcia knelt next to him, eased him to lying position. Blood trickled from his arm, pooling on the cold stone beneath him.

“We gotta get out of here,” Kevin said. “Help me up.”

Marcia helped him to his feet. Kevin stumbled, dizzy. He looked down, his senses snapping awake when he did. Two tentacles sprouted from the floor where his blood pooled.

“Let’s go,” he said.

Marcia draped Kevin’s uninjured arm over her shoulders to lend support. They staggered from the room, made their way down the long hallway. Each time they stepped in the flickering light of another torch Kevin glanced down, watched blood drip from his arm. Tiny tentacles sprouted from the stone where each drop splashed.

They reached the steps.

“Go,” Kevin said, pulling his arm down, pushing Marcia ahead.

“You need help.”

“Stairway’s too narrow.” Marcia started to protest. He pushed her. “Go. I’m right behind you.”
To read the rest of The Dark Secret of Warren House, and the entire collection THE ALCHEMIST & OTHER DARK TALES, click here for Kindle or here for Nook.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Excerpt 7 -- This hearse is looking for a body...

An excerpt from The Hearse...

Rylan was fantasizing about sleep when he glanced in his rearview mirror. His gaze locked on what he saw there. Two headlights, roughly fifty yards away, he guessed. Behind the headlights was the outline of a hearse. From this distance, in the dead of the night, Rylan knew he shouldn’t be able to make out anything behind the headlights. But the hearse was clearly visible. It was black. All hearses are black. An odd bluish glow enveloped the vehicle, bringing out details that should not have been visible.

At the sight of the hearse Trish’s first words, what she told when he arrived at her house, came flooding back. She said she was convinced someone killed Randy, even though he was found lying in the kitchen floor, felled by a heart attack in the middle of the night. Trish said she thought someone had been stalking Randy – that for two days before he died Randy said he kept seeing a hearse following him around town.

She said Randy only glimpsed it at first – catching a reflection in the mirror, then it would be gone. Later that day every time he went out he saw it, following him, or parked in the same garage. He had told her the same thing happened the day he died.

Trish said Randy was convinced he was going to die, that the hearse was some sort of harbinger. She thought it was something more easily explained, though just as sinister – a stalker. She didn’t know why, or have any idea by whom, but to her that explanation made more sense than her thirty-seven-year-old husband dropping dead in the kitchen floor.

She had shared this with the police, but they treated her like a hysterical wife, too distraught over her husband’s death to think clearly. Rylan didn’t respond to her suspicions. Truth was, he thought the same as the police. The medical examiner had pronounced the cause of death most likely a heart attack, with no reason to investigate further. Case closed. Now Rylan wished he had paid more attention to her, asked her more about the hearse, about what happened leading up to Randy’s death.

Rylan glared nervously at the mirror, the sleep that had been dancing at the edges of his mind now gone. Rylan glanced at the speedometer – sixty-five. He nudged the cruise control a bit until the speedometer read seventy, then looked back at the mirror.

The hearse matched his speed, staying the same distance behind.

He tapped the cruise control button twice more, pushing the speed to seventy-five. He kept his eyes on the road ahead, too scared to look in the mirror. Finally, after several minutes he did glance at the mirror. The hearse was still there, keeping pace.

Rylan mashed the accelerator. The speedometer shot up, past eighty, past ninety. Rylan knew there was a good chance he would trip some state trooper’s radar, end up with a ticket, feeling silly that he had let a simple hearse spook him. He didn’t care.
Feeling silly explaining all this to a cop would be a relief. The speedometer passed ninety-five, inched close to one hundred.

Rylan kept his eyes on the road ahead of him, as nervous about driving at this speed as he was about the hearse tailing him. He glanced at the dashboard clock – one forty-five. He kept driving, his focus on the road ahead, not wanting to look in the mirror until he’d left the hearse behind. He drove and glanced at the clock, repeating the process as the clock ticked off one minute, then two, three, four, five. Another minute later Rylan could stand it no longer. He looked in the mirror.

Still roughly fifty yards behind the hearse followed.

“Damn,” Rylan whispered.

He lifted his foot from the accelerator and gently pressed the brake. The speedometer dropped – eighty, seventy, sixty, fifty.

Rylan looked in the mirror. The hearse slowed, keeping the same distance between them.
For just 99 cents you can read the rest of The Hearse, as well as all the stories in my collection THE ALCHEMIST & OTHER DARK TALES (sale ends, soon, though!). Download here for your Kindle, or here for your Nook.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Day 6 of 10 Days of Excerpts -- Youth in a Bottle

Okay, I know I said something last week about 10 excerpts in 10 days, but you and I both know I meant 10 excerpts in 12 days, right? I mean, that is what I meant to say...really...

And today's excerpt is from my short story, Youth in a Bottle, which for those of us with a few years on us is an intriguing idea. It was for the main character of this story, aging burned-out rock star Grace Smith, until she found out what it was the bottle contained.

You can still get Youth in a Bottle (the story, not the youth), and the rest of my collection THE ALCHEMIST & OTHER DARK TALES, for just 99 cents, for download to your Kindle here or for download to your Nook here.

And now, for today's excerpt:


...Tonight none of that mattered. Grace felt more alive, more like a singer, more like a rock star than she had in nearly a decade. The announcer quieted the crowd, called her name and Grace sprinted onto the stage.

She dove in to her opening set, deep voice bellowing the lyrics at a fevered pitch. Diehard Grace Smith fans made up the audience. They had come despite the vitriolic reviews of recent shows, and soon were screaming for more, their fists pumping in time with the music. After ninety minutes, the appointed time for the concert to end, Grace was nowhere near finished. She turned to her band.

“All right boys, that's enough of a warm-up, now let's rock the house,” she called into the mic. The band members glanced at one another, surprise on their faces. So far the daily script for the tour had been play hard for ninety minutes, sometimes less, then get off the stage and the rest of the night belonged to them.

“I said, let’s ROCK THE HOUSE,” Grace screamed. The audience joined in, their cries for more echoing off the walls, the roof. The band members kicked in on their respective instruments. For another ninety minutes they played, the audience cheered, and Grace was in heaven. She forgot about being old, about being tired, about the small but now-rabid audience. For those ninety minutes it was just her and the music, melding together. Finally Grace’s agent, who doubled as her road manager, got her attention from the wings. He was pointing at his watch – if the band and crew didn’t clear the building by midnight he’d have to cough up another day’s rent.

She sang two more songs, then exited the stage.

“Damn, that felt incredible,” she screamed as her bandmates followed into the wings. Grace hugged each one of them – another surprise, since she had barely acknowledged their existence during the tour. “Great show guys.” She jogged to her dressing room, shut the door behind her and leaned against the wall, eyes closed, listening to cheers filtering from the concert hall.

“Quite a show.”

Her eyes snapped open.

“How did you ... you weren’t here a second ago,” she said.

“I was, I chose not to be seen. I must compliment you, Ms. Smith, on a stirring performance.” He bowed slightly. “I see you tried the elixir.”

“Yeah, I tried it, so what?” She walked across the room, brushing roughly against the man.

“Come, come, Ms. Smith, I would think you’d be ecstatic with the results.”

“Results? I drank it, nothing happened. I suppose you’ll get a good laugh out of that, making me believe I could find youth again in that damn little bottle.”

“That’s exactly what you found, Ms. Smith. Youth. At least a few hours of that most precious commodity.”

“Like hell. That stuff is about as worthless as—”

“You sang tonight like you were thirty. You even look younger."

Despite her cynicism Grace twirled to the mirror. She leaned close. Sweat glistened on her skin, but even through the perspiration she could see the lines on her face where a tad shallower, the circles under her eyes a bit faded. She faced the stranger.

“What did you give me?”

“Oh, I’m not sure you really want to know just yet. Later, once you begin to truly understand what it means to grow young.”

“What did you give me?”

The man smiled, but remained silent.

Grace maintained a hard stare. As a young rock singer she had been naturally defiant whenever a manger or bar owner tried to bully her. She felt the same emotion tonight, another feeling she had not known in years.

“I said tell me.”

More silence.

“I got all night,” Grace said.

“As you wish. The vial was filled with blood. Human blood.”

The defiance left her body like helium escaping a popped balloon. Grace grabbed her belly, turned to the dressing table and leaned against it for support. Her stomach heaved. Vomit filled her mouth before spilling onto the tabletop. ...

Read the rest of Youth in a Bottle (the story, not the youth), and my collection THE ALCHEMIST & OTHER DARK TALES, for just 99 cents, for download to your Kindle here or for download to your Nook here.